Tag: NHS

The Frontline Clinical Experience: Navigating Uncertainty and Risk in the Early Days of Covid-19

As the Covid-19 Inquiry progresses, it provides an opportunity for reflection on the many challenges faced by healthcare workers like myself during the early days of the pandemic. At that time, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was a largely unknown entity; clinical guidelines were still under development; and personal protective equipment (PPE) was scarce. For those on the NHS frontline, the experience was marked by a mix of anxiety, urgency, and dedication to the patients we were trained to serve.

Unfamiliar Territory 

In the initial stages, Covid-19 was a “novel” coronavirus, the key word being “novel.” There was a scarcity of data, and the disease was manifesting in ways that were not entirely well understood. As primary care physicians, we were suddenly thrust into the realm of the unknown, treating patients with undifferentiated respiratory illnesses that did not yet have well-defined and evidence-based treatment protocols.

The Personal Risk Factor 

One of the most daunting aspects of those early days was the awareness of personal risk. It became apparent that healthcare workers were at a significantly higher risk of contracting the disease through their exposure to infected individuals. One thing struck me and others very profoundly was the pattern among the first NHS staff who died due to Covid-19. Many of them were like me: male, over 50, and belonging to ethnic minority groups. This resemblance was not just a statistical observation; it was a stark reminder of my own vulnerability and that of many of my colleagues.

Ethical Duty vs. Personal Safety 

Yet, despite these risks, we had patients to treat. Faced with an ethical duty to provide care, healthcare workers had to weigh this against the risks to their own health. It was an emotionally and ethically complex position to be in. While the fear and anxiety were real, they had to be balanced against our professional obligations to our patients and the NHS. It was a test of not just our medical skills but also our commitment to the Hippocratic Oath.

The Importance of Resilience 

The job had to be done, and so we donned our PPE, took the necessary precautions, and went to work. This resilience is a testament to the dedication of healthcare workers globally who stood firm in their commitment despite the many unknowns in early 2020. The role of healthcare providers in those critical moments was instrumental in broadening our understanding of the virus, which subsequently guided future public health responses and medical treatments.

Ongoing Challenges 

The situation has evolved, and thankfully, we now know much more about Covid-19. We now also have vaccines that reduce the risk of serious illness, fossilisation and death. Yet the lessons of those early days continue to resonate. Healthcare providers still face risks, both physical and emotional, particularly as new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerge. The story is not over, but the experiences of the past provide a foundation upon which we build our ongoing responses.


As we navigate the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, it’s essential to reflect on where we started and the progress we’ve made since early 2020. The Covid-19 Inquiry serves as a timely reminder of the sacrifices, bravery, and resilience of healthcare workers; not just in England but globally. While the anxiety was palpable, their commitment to patient care never wavered. Those initial, uncertain days were a crucible that tested the mettle of healthcare professionals everywhere, and the dedication demonstrated during those times will be remembered as one of the brighter aspects of this ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic.

Strategies and Interventions to Improve Well-Being and Reduce Burnout in Healthcare Professionals

Our recent article in the Journal of Primary Care & Community Health discusses burnout, a psychological response to chronic workplace stress that is particularly common in healthcare workers and which has been made worse by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Burnout is caused by factors such as increasing workload, inadequate support from employers and colleagues, and a stressful work environment. It has negative effects on both patients and healthcare professionals, including reduced patient satisfaction, an increase in medical errors, and decreased quality of care. Addressing burnout requires a multi-pronged approach involving individual and organisational-level strategies.

Managing people’s workload, providing individual-focused interventions like stress management, and offering professional development opportunities can help reduce burnout. Supportive leadership, peer support, and a healthy work-life balance are also important. Organisational culture and leadership play a crucial role in fostering these kind of supportive work environments. A culture of openness and support without stigma is also essential, as is the importance of appropriate support programmes rather than relying solely on individual resilience. Ultimately, preventing burnout and managing when it does occur requires collaborative efforts between healthcare systems and individual healthcare professionals.

Electronic health records: Don’t under-estimate the importance of implementation and staff training

One of the most significant changes I have witnessed during my medical career is the introduction of electronic health records (EHRs). While they have brought many benefits to the NHS, patients and clinicians, they have also posed some challenges.

On the positive side, EHRs have made medical records more legible, accessible and secure. Many doctors and patients will remember the era when a patient’s medical record was often “missing” when they attended for an outpatient appointment. This made the management of the patient more difficult as the clinician attending the patient did not have all the information they needed; usually requiring the patient to return at a later date when hopefully by which time their medical records would be found.

With EHRs, in contrast, clinicians can access patient records from anywhere at any time, which has made it easier to provide care to patients in different locations. EHRs have also made it easier to conduct medical research, as they allow researchers to access large volumes of data in a more streamlined manner. Quality improvement has also been enhanced as EHRs make it much easier to measure the quality of healthcare and the impact of any interventions and change to the provision of health services.

However, EHRs have also forced clinicians to modify how they work, which is not always a positive change. The increased use of technology in healthcare for example can sometimes result in decreased interaction between clinicians and patients; as the clinicians is often focused on reading the EHR and entering new data. In addition, the use of EHRs can be time-consuming, as clinicians have to enter information into the system, which can increase their workload.

Another potential issue with EHRs is the risk of data breaches, which can compromise patient privacy and confidentiality. Cybersecurity is a major concern for healthcare providers, and it is important that they take appropriate measures to protect patient data. We have seen example in the NHS of significant data breaches which have disrupted the delivery of health services and compromised sensitive patient information. We have also seen examples of major IT failures (for example, during the heatwave in the summer of 2022).

Despite the challenges associated with EHRs, they are here to stay. It is crucial that healthcare providers adapt to this new way of working, but also that the systems are designed in a way that minimises the burden on clinicians while maximising the benefits to healthcare providers and patients. The ongoing development of EHRs and other technological advancements must always prioritise patient care and safety. This means designing IT systems with adequate input from staff and patients; and ensuring that sufficient time and resources are devoted to areas such as implementation and training.

Why the NHS needs to put the joy back into being a doctor

A complaint I often hear from colleagues is that “the NHS has taken the joy out of medicine”. Modern healthcare delivery is increasingly seen by NHS staff and by patients as an industrial-type activity with strict performance targets. This has resulted in many healthcare professionals feeling that they have lost the much of the flexibility and autonomy that was once a defining characteristic of their professions.

This feeling can also concern patients, as they may feel that they may not be receiving the personalised care and attention that they feel they need. The focus on targets, metrics and finances can create an environment where patients feel they are being treated as numbers rather than as individuals with unique needs and circumstances.

It is important for politicians, NHS managers and clinicians to acknowledge these concerns and work to address them. While performance targets, metrics and financial monitoring are important tools for measuring the effectiveness of healthcare delivery, they should not be the only focus of the NHS. Healthcare professionals must be given the freedom and flexibility to exercise their judgement and provide personalised care to their patients.

The NHS should also work to ensure that patients are seen as individuals with unique needs and circumstances, rather than simply as numbers on a spreadsheet. This can be achieved through providing adequate resources (both financial and personnel) fpr the NHS, better training for healthcare professionals, improved communication with patients, and greater emphasis on patient-centred care.

Ultimately, the goal of the NHS should be to provide high-quality, personalised care to all patients. This requires a shift in mindset away from the purely target-driven approach we often see in today’s NHS towards a more holistic approach that prioritises the needs and well-being of patients and healthcare professionals alike.

Uncertainty in public health and clinical medicine

I joined Twitter 10 years ago in May 2013. One of the lessons I’ve learned from social media is that too many people want “certainty”. But in public health and medicine, there often aren’t certainties; just probabilities of certain outcomes or unknowns due to a lack of evidence. This can be frustrating for people who are looking for clear answers, but science is a process of discovery, and there is always more to learn; either from new research or from summarising and synthesising evidence from current and past research. By looking at the existing evidence, we can make informed decisions about our health and the health of our communities.

Uncertainty is a critical aspect of scientific inquiry and helps researchers refine their understanding of health-related issues over time. Uncertainty can arise due to factors such as incomplete data, limitations in research, or the complexity of the systems being studied. Another way to deal with uncertainty is to be open to new information. As new research is conducted, we may learn more about the risks and benefits of different interventions. It is important to be willing to change our minds in light of new evidence.

Uncertainty doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing can be done to address health issues. Rather, it means that we need to rely on the best available evidence and make informed decisions based on that evidence, while recognising that there may still be unknowns and potential risks. Communicating clearly and transparently about the state of evidence, the limitations of that evidence, and the potential implications for health can help build trust and ensure that people have the information they need to make informed decisions about their health.

Finally, we are all in this together. Public health and medicine are complex areas, and we need to work together to find solutions. By working together and gaining public support, we can have a positive effect on the health of our communities.

Why cost effectiveness analysis is important in public health

Cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) is a method used in health economics and healthcare planning to compare the costs and benefits of different healthcare interventions. CEA is particularly important in public health because it helps policymakers and healthcare providers to make informed decisions about which interventions to prioritise and invest in.

Vaccination is a good example of why incremental CEA is important. Vaccination programs can be expensive, and policymakers need to know if the benefits of vaccination outweigh the costs. Incremental CEA can help answer this question by comparing the costs and health outcomes of vaccination to other interventions, or to doing nothing at all.

There are many factors that can affect the cost-effectiveness of a public health intervention. These include the cost of the intervention, the effectiveness of the intervention, and the value of the health outcomes that are achieved (such as a reduction in hospital admissions). The cost of an intervention can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the resources that are needed to implement the intervention, the number of people who are affected by the intervention, and the cost of any associated treatment or care.

The effectiveness of an intervention can also vary depending on the characteristics of the population that is being targeted. In general, public health programmes are more cost-effective in people with a higher risk of poor health outcomes. This is why older people are often targeted. By using incremental CEA, policymakers can identify which public health programmes provide the most health benefits for the lowest cost. They can also use this information to determine the optimal allocation of resources and funding to achieve the best population health outcomes.

Additionally, by comparing the cost-effectiveness of different public health strategies, they can make more informed decisions about which interventions to prioritize and invest in, helping to maximize the overall impact of limited public health resources. As well as vaccination, we can also use CEA to look at other public health programme such as screening for cancer, interventions to promote healthy diets and increase physical activity, and programmes to support people to quit smoking.

Factors associated with accessing long-term social care in older people

The rise in demand for healthcare by an ageing population together with budgetary constraints has put great pressure on the availability of adult social care (ASC). In response, healthcare organisations and researchers have developed practices of care and support, focusing on prolonging functional independence  This is done through exploring possible risk factors associated with unplanned outcomes, typically readmissions to hospital or through the use of predictive models to forecast outcomes.

Predictive models are widely used by health care providers in the UK and US due to their potential to inform early interventions. However, equivalent models for predicting new onset of long-term ASC, defined as need for help with tasks of daily living in the community or in care homes, are rare, particularly those using administrative data.

In this study published in Age and Ageing, we describe risk factors for long-term ASC in two inner London boroughs and develop a risk prediction model for long-term ASC. Pseudonymised person-level data from an integrated care dataset were analysed. We used multivariable logistic regression to model associations of demographic factors, and baseline aspects of health status and health service use, with accessing long-term ASC over 12 months.

The cohort comprised 13,394 residents, aged ≥75 years with no prior history of ASC at baseline. Of these, 1.7% became ASC clients over 12 months. Residents were more likely to access ASC if they were older or living in areas with high socioeconomic deprivation. Those with pre-existing mental health or neurological conditions, or more intense prior health service use during the baseline period, were also more likely to access ASC. A prognostic model derived from risk factors had limited predictive power.

Our findings reinforce evidence on known risk factors for residents aged 75 or over, yet even with linked routinely collected health and social care data, it was not possible to make accurate predictions of long-term ASC use for individuals. We propose that a paradigm shift towards more relational, personalised approaches, is needed.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afac038

Should GPs in England be employed by the NHS?

The intense micromanagement of general practices by NHS England since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 has shattered the illusion that NHS general practitioners are truly “independent”. For example, during the pandemic, NHS general practices have often received weekly updates from NHS England on how they should provide primary care services.[1] The opening hours and working arrangements of general practices are also highly regulated by NHS England. And general practitioners are not independent contractors in the same way that professionals working in other fields or indeed primary care physicians working overseas would recognise. General practitioners are not even able to offer private medical services to their patients in the same way as NHS Trusts or dentists are able to do. In effect, they have all the disadvantages of being self-employed contractors and none of the benefits of being NHS employees.

For more than a decade, primary care in England has suffered from under-investment, and a lack of key staff such as general practitioners and practice nurses. The NHS hospital sector in contrast – although it also has its problems – has seen its funding and medical staffing increase at a much quicker rate than in NHS primary care.[2] And yet despite this, more NHS work continues to be shifted to primary care without being followed by a commensurate increase in funding and staffing. Attempts by NHS England to prevent this – such as the introduction of the NHS Hospital Contract – have failed.[3] It’s very clear that NHS England is not going to invest adequately in the current independent contractor model of general practice, making being a GP Partner increasingly unattractive for younger general practitioners.[4] It’s time therefore to look seriously at the alternative – GPs becoming salaried employees of the NHS.

Of course, being employed by the NHS is not a panacea. Many NHS staff employed by NHS Trusts suffer from stress and over-work, just like those working in primary care. But they are not personally responsible for the ownership of their employing organisations, and their income does not depend on how well their organisation performs financially. Their working hours are also better regulated than those of self-employed GPs.

If GPs had employment contracts similar to those of NHS consultants, they could then have job plans with time allocated for activities such as quality improvement, NHS management, teaching, training, and research. Currently, these activities are often done on top of their regular working hours. Working in organisations that employed large numbers of GPs would also create opportunities for a better career structure. For example, it may be possible to create posts for GPs who specialise in areas such as the care of the elderly or in child health; and for GPs who take on clinical leadership, quality improvement and NHS management roles in addition to a clinical role.[5]

Finally, GPs becoming NHS employees would make NHS England directly responsible for the delivery of primary care services, in the same way they already are for specialist services. It would be the responsibility of NHS England – not GPs – to ensure that patients had timely access to a comprehensive range of high-quality primary care services and the infrastructure needed to deliver this care.

An increasing proportion of NHS GPs are already salaried. The future for GPs therefore looks to be heading in this direction. The question for GPs is do they want to be employed by the NHS with similar terms of employment to consultants; or do they want to be employed by private companies and “mega-partnerships” with the inevitable variability in terms of employment that they will offer?

A version of this article was first published in the British Medical Journal.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o406


1. Majeed A, Maile EJ, Bindman AB. The primary care response to COVID-19 in England’s National Health Service. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2020;113(6):208-210.

2. Anderson M, O’Neill C, Clark JM, Street A, Woods M, Johnston-Webber C, et al. Securing a sustainable and fit-for-purpose UK health and care workforce. The Lancet. 2021 May 22;397(10288):1992-2011.

3. Price A, Majeed A. Improving how secondary care and general practice in England work together: requirements in the NHS Standard Contract. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2018;111(2):42-46.

4. Rimmer A. GPs move towards industrial action after rejecting “rescue plan” for general practice BMJ 2021; 375:n2594

5. Majeed A, Buckman L. Should all GPs become NHS employees? BMJ 2016; 355:i5064

General Practice in England: The Current Crisis, Opportunities and Challenges

General practice or family medicine has historically been lauded as the “jewel in the crown” of the English National Health Service (NHS). General practice, at the heart of primary care, has continued to contribute to the high ranking of the NHS in international comparisons and evidence from several decades of research has shown that general practice in the UK has improved the nation’s health. Furthermore, it has provided equitable, cost-effective, and accessible care for all with the flexibility to adapt rapidly to a changing society and political climates, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic when there was rapid implementation of remote consultation models. However, this much-admired public sector service has recently come under unprecedented political and media spotlight instigated by the pressures of the current pandemic on the NHS. This coupled with collapsing morale among general practitioners (GPs), a shrinking GP workforce, inexorable demands, increasing workload, and decreasing real-terms per capita funding have caused many to sound alarm on a general practice in “crisis”. In this article published in the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, we describe the evolving nature of general practice and the current crisis, as well as potential solutions and opportunities going forward.

The full article can be read in the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management.

DOI: 10.1097/JAC.0000000000000410

A national vaccination service for the NHS in England

The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced on 26 January that a ‘national vaccination service’ is required to provide mass covid-19 vaccination to the population of England.[1] Speaking at a House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee meeting, Mr Javid suggested the proposed service could cover other vaccines as well as vaccines for covid-19. The rationale is that NHS General Practice is under great strain, and by removing some services that can be provided elsewhere, it will free up time for primary care teams to concentrate on their core work.

Traditionally, mass vaccine programmes in England have relied largely on general practices, increasingly supported by community pharmacies in recent years. This was demonstrated to great effect during the first wave of covid-19 vaccinations where the majority of vaccines were delivered by primary care teams. GP teams have secure electronic patient record systems, and are experienced in cold storage chains, and have medical support on site, including resuscitation equipment. Patients often know and trust their family doctors, and generally respond better to recalls for vaccination when these come from their own general practices. A move towards mass vaccine centres and away from primary care delivery may explain some of the recent slow-down in England’s covid-19 vaccine programme.[2]

The public need to be fully informed about what a national vaccination service will mean for them individually as well as the NHS. The majority of all NHS contacts occur in general practice, with around one million contacts per day.[3] This means that vaccines can be offered opportunistically when patients are attending for other reasons as well as in dedicated vaccine clinics. It also allows primary care teams to have discussions about vaccination during these consultations in patients who have concerns or questions about vaccines, or who are vaccine hesitant.

When attending for vaccination, patients also have the opportunity to discuss other issues in their health with their primary care team and to benefit from opportunistic health promotion. All this helps to ensure that vaccination is viewed holistically and not just as a transactional activity. This is particularly important for children where non-attendance for vaccination can sometimes be a safeguarding issue which requires a sensitive approach from primary care teams, as well as effective inter-agency working.

When the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that he wanted all adults England to be offered a covid-19 vaccine before the end of 2021 he looked to GPs to help. As a result, GPs were asked to drop all non-essential work and focus on vaccination for the remainder of the year. This caused much debate in the national and medical press about what the priorities should be for the NHS and for primary care. Suspending “non-essential work” will have adverse effects on people’s experience of the NHS and risks worsening health outcomes, particularly for poorer groups.[4] It is clearly also a policy that cannot be sustained for long or repeated frequently (for example, for another covid-19 vaccine booster programme later this year).

The current plan to consider a separate national vaccination service for covid-19 and possibly other vaccinations seems to be an effort to ensure that GPs are not asked to stop routine medical care again. Although investment in the NHS is welcome, and removing some workload from general practice might have merits, there are some caveats that must be considered before a new national vaccination service is established.

Firstly, any new vaccination service must be more cost-effective than existing models of delivery of vaccines, such as through general practices and pharmacists. At a time when NHS budgets are under great pressure, NHS funding must be used cost-effectively and services delivered efficiently. A new national vaccination service would require substantial funding to establish and run. For example, it is difficult to see how a national vaccine service could run effectively without full access to patients’ electronic medical records. It would also require premises from which to operate, and staff to manage and deliver the programme. We need the government to show how this investment in a new service would compare in terms of cost-effectiveness with a similar investment in primary care teams.

Secondly, a national vaccination service must achieve a high uptake of vaccination. We currently have very good uptake of most childhood vaccines in England and in 2021-22, primary care teams also achieved a record uptake of flu vaccines, for an extended group of patients compared to previous years. Vaccinations must also be delivered quickly and at scale when in a pandemic, and there must be a safe and robust system to target high risk groups; such as those with frailty, long term conditions, the housebound, people living in care homes, and patients from marginalised groups.[5]

Thirdly, creating a separate vaccination service risks further fragmentation of primary care. As we have already seen with the covid-19 NHS 119 service, many patients will still contact their GPs about vaccination queries, even if this is no longer part of the NHS GP contract. This risks creating extra work for primary care teams that is not part of their core contract and for which they will not be paid; and will also be very frustrating for patients who will have to deal with more than one healthcare provider to have any issues they have about their vaccinations and how these vaccinations are recorded are dealt with. Finally, a newly established national vaccine service may recruit staff from primary care teams, both clinical and non-clinical, thereby further worsening the current shortages of staff in NHS primary care.[6]

The government must therefore carefully examine the merits of a separate national vaccination service; and any problems it may cause for existing services; including how it might affect vaccine uptake. Investing in and strengthening existing NHS primary care infrastructure in general practices and pharmacies may be a more cost effective option. Because of the importance of vaccination in allowing England to move to “living with covid-19”, vaccinations programmes must be implemented well and achieve a high take-up, particularly in the groups most at risk of serious illness, complications and death from infectious diseases such as covid-19. We cannot risk undermining the current vaccination systems that already work efficiently and cost-effectively in England’s NHS. Any proposals for a new national vaccination service must therefore be assessed with the same rigour we would with any new medical treatment with serious consideration of the risks as well as the benefits.

 A version of this article was first published in the British Medical Journal.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o338


  1. Health secretary proposes ‘national vaccination service’ to relieve GPs.https://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/news/breaking-news/health-secretary-proposes-national-vaccination-service-to-offload-gps/
  2. Where are we with covid-19 vaccination in the United Kingdom?https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/07/09/where-are-we-with-covid-19-vaccination-in-the-united-kingdom/
  3. Appointments in General Practice.https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/appointments-in-general-practice–weekly-mi/current
  4. Majeed A, Maile EJ, Bindman AB. The primary care response to COVID-19 in England’s National Health Service. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2020;113(6):208-210.
  5. Covid-19 vaccines: patients left confused over rollout of third primary doses.https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/10/15/covid-19-vaccines-patients-left-confused-over-rollout-of-third-primary-doses/
  6. Oliver D. Act on workforce gaps, or the NHS will never recover BMJ 2022; 376:n3139